By some estimates, there are about 165 million dogs and cats in American households today compared to about 61 million dogs and cats 30 years ago. Coupled with this fact is the reality that the entire American family, children and adults, now have more demands on their time than ever before. This leaves less time to walk the family dog. This is where a relatively new industry, “professional dog walking” has developed to fill this demand. This article discusses key points about professional dog walkers and offers information on what to look for when choosing a professional dog walker.

One misconception that many people still hold is that dog walking is easy. It isn’t as simple as paying the kid down the block a dollar (or even five) to take your dog for a walk around the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon any more. Today, in many cities and towns, dog walking is a thriving cottage industry filled with hardworking, animal loving businessmen and women.

Dog walkers must be in very good shape. In order to make a living, pay for insurance, gas and other expenses the average dog walker may have as many as 10-15 dogs under their control at any one time. Often, five or six packs of this size a day. Contemporary film and television seems fond of showing people struggling to control dozens of ravening beasties out on the streets of major cities. Of course, they exaggerate, but the truth is, to compete in today’s market most professional dog walkers make their money based on the speed and ease of their service as well as the quantity of dogs they can handle at one time. It’s important for a professional dog walker to be strong and healthy with a great pair of walking shoes.

A dog walking business is just that, a business. In addition to certifications such as that offered by the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (http://www.petsitters.org/), professional pet walkers should have a business license for your city. A professional pet walker will also carry adequate insurance for himself, his entire business, employees and vehicles. In addition, make sure it covers all the animals under his care. If the pet walker you plan to hire is to have access to your home when you are not there, it is reasonable to expect the pet walker to be bonded. Business, insurance and bonding requirements vary by location. Find out what regulations apply in your area before hiring a pet walker and expect the pet walker you hire to meet all of the local requirements.

You should expect anyone who is going to take care of your pet to have substantial general animal experience in areas such as pet first aid and positive reinforcement training. Ask the potential dog walker what they would do in case of health emergency with your pet; ask if they have contingency plans in case they or their employees fall ill and what they do in bad weather.

You should expect a professional pet walker to make an initial visit to your home that does not involve a dog walk, to meet you and your dog, as well as explain how the service works and the charges involved. It’s important to watch your dog and the walker in this initial meet and greet. The prospective dog walker should be clean and well kept; she should be friendly to both you and your dog(s), and courteous and professional. Watch your dog for signs of discomfort or unease, dogs are often very intuitive and good judges of character. Your dog and the walker should be comfortable and calm around each other. I like to have a list of questions prepared ahead of time and I make sure to ask all of them. If a prospective pet walker is apprehensive about answering any of your questions, perhaps she isn’t the right dog walker for you.

Ask yourself, does the prospective dog walker seem interested in my dog and their care or, in only landing the job. A good dog walker is curious about your dog’s health, personality, diet and things like favorite treats and toys. Make sure to get a business contract or work agreement that spells out exactly what services are, and are not, provided by the dog walker and at what cost. It should also explain any potential extra charges in detail.

There are a few more things to know before hiring a professional dog walker. How many dog walkers work for the company? It’s important to understand if you are dealing with a big company that may have many dog walkers on staff or a single person driving around town, picking up dogs in a van and walking them around a local park. It may not make a difference in your ultimate decision, but a larger company may be more flexible in cases of emergency or schedule changes whereas, a single person may not be as flexible but will probably provide service that is more personal.

Remember that the initial visit is not for the prospective dog walker to walk your dog and you do not have to make a decision to hire the dog walker right then. Thank the person for their time, tell them that you will think about it or, discuss it with your family and get back to them. Finally, factors such as hours of operation, number of walks available to your pet per week; the number, variety and types of locations where the dog walker will typically take your dog; and experience with specific breeds are matters of concern to individual dog owners.

There’s no substitute for common sense when choosing people to work with you, your family or your pets. If someone doesn’t seem physically able to handle your pet, doesn’t have all the necessary business papers or seems disinterested in your pet, it’s often better to move on to the next applicant. There is no shortage of qualified, enthusiastic professional dog walkers in most metropolitan areas, and finding the right one for you and your pet may not be easy or happen quickly. I hope that the information in this article will help you with your decision.

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